That’s a question that is always asked when making a Pixar film. What if a rat in Paris dreamed of becoming a chef? What if your toys were only lifeless before your eyes, but came to life whenever you looked the other way? What if there was a parallel city where the “monsters” in your closet worked, lived, and had lives of their own? Now, Pixar asks, what if the asteroid that hit Earth millions of years ago, causing the extinction of the dinosaurs missed? This is the question that propels the story of The Good Dinosaur, a story about a world where Dinosaurs never became extinct, and so an unlikely friendship between an Apatosaurus named Arlo and a human named Spot is possible.
One of the people behind Pixar’s latest adventure is Sanjay Bakshi. He had to tackle this What if question as Supervising Technical Director. His role was basically being the link between the storytellers and the graphics department. It’s different from his previous roles on Pixar films, such as in Toy Story 3, where he had to supervise only character design and overlook the team that was responsible for building the characters, essentially bringing them to life. Now, his job was to not only overlook the characters, but to supervise the whole backdrop of the film. The sets, the layout, the lighting, everything that makes up the movie. Part of his job was also to work with both the director and the producer to help them understand the technology while also making sure the graphics department fully realized the director’s vision in order to bring the story alive in the best way possible.
If this sounds like one of the best jobs ever, it is. A typical day for Sanjay at Pixar is getting in around 8:30am, eating a Pixar-approved cereal bar, and having a series of 30-minute meetings. One meeting can consist of him talking about graphics and software, while his next one can be a discussion on Arlo’s emotional journey. It’s a marriage between the science and the art; The perfect recipe for a Pixar film. This, however, isn’t the most rewarding part of the job for him. The most fulfilling part? Watching the audience’s reactions. “It’s really satisfying to me to see them and hear them respond to the characters and emotion,” he says.
Pixar tends to pull at people’s heartstrings, and this film is no exception. At the heart of the story lies the relationship between Arlo and Spot. After circumstances leave Arlo far from his home, he needs to overcome obstacles, both emotionally and physically. One significant aspect in this was the beauty and dangers of nature. Arlo is discovering the world for the first time with fresh eyes, and some parts are serene and beautiful, but others are perilous and threatening. One specific feature that was used to parallel the emotions Arlo experiences was the river. A river can be both calm and turbulent, but it’s essential. Whenever the river is out of sight, it means that Arlo is off track. Still, the hub of The Good Dinosaur is within the relationship between two creatures. “We’ve all experienced that moment where we have self-doubt and we’re lacking confidence. Using friendship to overcome that, I think is something everybody can relate to,” Bakshi says.
The short before the film, Sanjay’s Super Team, is one that touches upon true themes as well. Not to be confused with Sanjay Bakshi, Sanjay Patel’s direction for this short was personal. He coupled his love of superheroes and cartoons with his father’s love of Hinduism, and showed us how two generations can relate to each other, how a father and a son can share a love of interests despite those interests being different on the surface. In an epic, but also personal manner, Patel shows us how Hindu gods and goddesses can be superheroes too.
Before taking charge of Pixar’s latest project, Bakshi was just kid who loved making images on the computer. This innate passion led to his obtaining a Master’s degree in Computer Graphics. This, in turn, led him to landing a dream job in the software department at Pixar where he worked on films, such as Ratatouille, Monsters University, and Toy Story 3. Eventually, he transitioned to the film making side, and is now taking part in both the science and the art of Pixar. For anyone out there who dreams of animating one day, he has just one piece of advice: “To be fundamentally good and have a good foundation in animation.” Computer technology is rapidly changing. However, the same principles of good animation that were discovered by the Disney animators still hold truth today. So no matter what the tool is, if you have a good foundation, your animation will come to life like The Good Dinosaur does today.
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